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Full text of "The Gay Genius"

LITERARY PATRIOTIC DUKE                    13

It fitted perfectly in rhyme and tone, and in effect the poem was like a
little gem, written as usual with the poet's effortless grace. It gave a very
subtle compliment to the girl, and Li Chi thereby became immortal
in literature. The technical restrictions in Chinese poetry were many,
requiring a high skill in the use of allusions and in the writing of a
poem with the same rhyme words as those used in a poem written by a
friend. Somehow, Su's rhyming was more natural, and his allusions,
upon close examination, were found to suggest deeper implications. In
prose his pen commanded a wide range of powers, from the most digni-
fied pure prose in the simple style of the ancient classics to charming
chatter in the style of the familiar essayists. It is difficult to choose
between the two. That is why he was acknowledged a master.

Su Tungpo, therefore, ranks as a major poet and prose writer of
China. In Addition he was a painter and calligraphist of the first order,
a distinguished conversationalist, a great traveller. Quick to compre-
hend Buddhist philosophy, he constantly associated with monks, and
was the first poet to inject Buddhist philosophy into Confucianist
poetry. He made a good guess that the dark spots on the moon were
the shadows of mountains. He pioneered in a new school of painting,
the "scholar painting" which makes Chinese art unique. He opened up
lakes and canals, fought floods, built dams. He picked his own herbs
and was a recognised authority in medicine. He dabbled in alchemy
and was interested almost to his last days in his search for the elixir of
"immortality. He pleaded with the gods and argued with the deviló
and sometimes won. He wanted to wrest the secrets of the universe,
was half defeated, and died with a laugh.

Were the word not so much abused today, we would say he was a
great democrat, for he associated with all manner of men and had for
his friends emperors, poets, cabinet ministers and retired farmers,
pharmacists, wineshop-keepers, and illiterate peasant women. His best
friends were poetic monks, unknown Taoists, and those poorer than
himself. He loved official honour and yet was happiest when the
crowds did not recognise him. He established good water systems for
Hangchow and Canton, founded orphanages and hospitals, instituted
prison physicians, fought infanticide. During the aftermath of the
social reforms he worked passionately and single-handedly at famine
* relief, against the colossal obstruction of bureaucracy. It almost seems
he was the only man concerned over the widespread famine and the
roaming refugees. Always he was the champion of the people against
the government and worked for the forgiveness of debts to the poor
until he got it. He wanted only to be himself. Today it may be said
that he was truly a modern man.